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Short Fiction By: Lee Rourke
Karl Smith , August 3rd, 2014 17:31

New writing this week comes in the form of new short fiction - 'Tenses Change In Moments Like These' - by editor, writer, poet and novelist Lee Rourke, author of the recently-published Vulgar Things (4th Estate)

Tenses Change In Moments Like These

There was no real need to go in there. There’s never been any real desire to venture in there before. There was nothing much going on. There wasn’t much to do. The day was cold, without sufficient light to muster up thought or imagination. It was the simplest thing to do really.

The door was one of those deceptive doors which hoodwink those choosing to walk through it into thinking that quite a lot of force should be applied in order for it to be opened. This wasn’t the case: the door flung open, crashing into the wall. People looked up from their drinks; indifferently, in a way that suggested this sort of thing happened all the time.

She served the drink. Half a lager. Always a half.

The tables were cheap, uninteresting. A stench of detergent filled the air. The seat, sorry . . . the stool by the bar, to the side, looking down the entire bar, was just right.

It was easy to watch her from there.

The way she moved. The way the colours changed hue around her with each step. The way she cut through this; easily, without hesitation, knowingly, unknowingly. Absent, completely, utterly absent from everything – and happy within it. Choosing it, moving into it.

It’s easy to purchase another drink. It’s easy to become lost in her: the way the colours change around her again, each time, and always.

Yet, the others: the drinkers, those in here day in day out, without fail; the same conversations they have, or try to engage her in, which she shrugs off with a smile, do they notice these colours changing all around her?

The way she moves – it’s unreal, in its own way. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else who moves in the same way she does. It’s not the sort of movement usually witnessed in these places. Her movement shines; there’s a brilliance to it. Like light itself; like she is light itself. Projecting it, outwards in every direction. There’s nothing quite like it; it’s why the colours change all around her, with each step; she heightens them; she brings life to them.

The dirty floorboards; blackened, a perfect backdrop. Framing her, each of her movements – allowing the light to spread, to move freely, all around, underneath tables, over drinkers’ heads, through doors into unused rooms.

It’s observations like these that make it bearable, that make a story work, that make things easier to digest, easier to accept.

“You’re very still. You like to watch. Never saying anything, just watching . . . I think I like this about you. I think.”

This was unexpected. This piece of dialogue. Words weren’t part of the plan. Words hadn’t been thought of, anticipated, all of that. The words didn’t appear, just some movement: the opening of a mouth, breath, but no sound.

It’s better to remain silent in moments such as these. To remain anonymous, to keep out of the way. That’s the best way: to stay out of things. But her voice lingers: it reverberates around the room. It can still be heard, and the silence just seems to heighten it into something meaningful, to enable it to remain this way: fading out, low, with a strange lingering significance that’s difficult to fathom.

Words, they come again.

“You’re not . . . I’ve not seen you in here before . . . Where you from? . . . Do you live around here? . . . Work? . . . Just passing by?”

It’s hard to break the silence. These words are difficult to deflect, to shrug off and allow to pass by with maybe a nod of the head or a roll of the eyes. Words like these are stronger than most: they are aimed with precision, arrowed towards an intended target with considerable force.

These aren’t ordinary words.

“You don’t say much do you? What’s wrong? Cat caught your tongue? Do you not want to speak? Everyone else does in here . . . Got nothing to say? Just drink, drink, drink, drink . . . If everyone just did that in here I’d go mad . . . All this depressing silence . . . Have you met Simon? The old geezer who sits there? Has he spoken to you yet? He will, you know, he speaks to everyone, especially new people like you. He knows everyone . . . So he says . . . I’ve never seen him with anyone, he’s always alone, but he loves to talk to people, about all the people he knows.

She moves away, in that same way, to serve another customer. She smiles, gliding down under the bar for a bottle and a glass, in one fluid, un-broken movement, which speaks of the well-rehearsed, or the over-repeated, in its wonderful nonchalance. It seems completely and utterly effortless, machine-like, but a machine fused with flesh and organics – something that seems to transcend, or non-transcend geometry.

And it’s the geometry all around her that makes all this seem special – or non-special, so beautiful and ordinary. Each angle, arc, spiral and rectangle heightens her natural flow, her uncomplicated dynamics. It’s geometry: the geometry of things that makes her so apparent, that brings her forth, into view, to be viewed this way: outside of narrative and description. Her story couldn’t be told any other way. She must flow, move, and be

Tenses change in moments like these. The past becomes present. The future is present

There’s the urge to answer all of her questions now, of course, but she’s talking to someone else over on the other side of the bar, where the group of men, all of them daily regulars, like to congregate, watching her when they think she doesn’t notice. But she does. She always knows. She’s used to it. She shrugs each gaze off, effortlessly.

They never notice.

The urge to talk to her now is real but the moment has passed. Things come and go. Always like this. The trick is to catch them, to pluck them out of the air, before they reveal themselves, before they bloom.

Before decay sets in.

But it rarely happens.

Life, it seems, is like that: a series of events almost-in-bloom-turning-into-decay.

That’s the sum and total of it.

That’s what silence brings: the ability to see things as they are.

So, the tenses pass. Well, things seems to pass, at least. Life seems past tense. Life is past tense, future, and present. Always present. Everything present. That’s all there is left of it. And this presence, her presence, this present, is not going to change this. It can’t.

Nothing can be changed, it seems.

Think about that again for a minute: nothing can be changed.

There have been many moments like these, too many to mention, to remember. There will be more. They reveal themselves in numerous bars, supermarkets, libraries, bookshops, art galleries, nightclubs, crowded streets, multi-storey car parks, shopping centres, railway stations, train carriages, airports, international flights, queues, doctors’ waiting rooms …

The list goes on …

… and on.

There was a moment. It was real. The way she moved was real. But that moment has passed. There is nothing that can be done. There was nothing that could be done. Or will be done.

It was time to leave. The drink was finished. There were some final deliberations: little indecisions, like those people who find it hard to say goodbye to other people when leaving social gatherings. There was the urge to regain eye contact, but it proved fruitless, it was easier to remain a while, waiting before leaving, that awkward non-moment where thought runs amok, where thought plays out a plethora of scenarios – those moments that could be, that could have been, those moments that should have been, encapsulated within a non-moment of waiting to leave. They remain, most fade slowly, maybe one will stay until the next moment, gnawing away, eating the day inside out, turning reality, all that shines, into non-reality, turning thought into fiction – a fiction that can never be reached. A fiction which has become a truth that can never be touched.

Leaving happened. After all that. It was easy. But the words, the words weren’t expected, they just seemed to appear, as one breathes: naturally, with a certainty that is too ubiquitous to be observed in detail. A real everyday necessity.

“Goodbye. Thanks . . .”

That’s all that was said, as the door opened and daylight flooded into view again.

She didn’t look up. She didn’t acknowledge the words. Maybe she did but chose not to hear them? Maybe she was offended? Maybe she was hurt? Maybe she simply didn’t give a fuck? Maybe she did? Maybe she wanted the moment to repeat itself? Maybe she wanted things to happen properly next time? Like they do in books and films? As they should have done? As they have done time and time again? Within her? Maybe that’s why she ignored the words? Because they weren’t real?

Because they’d already been answered?

Lee Rourke is the author of the short story collection EVERYDAY, the novel THE CANAL, and the poetry collection VARROA DESTRUCTOR. His most recent novel VULGAR THINGS is published by Fourth Estate. He lives by the sea.